Thursday, September 30, 2010

The way in which art grapples with reality

After reading yet another review (and broadly sympathetic at that) of Gabriel Josipovici's book, What Ever Happened to Modernism? - a book which I am yet to see reviewed here in Australia - I am struck by how novel most reviewers seem to find it that Josipovici should look for the roots of modernism so many centuries ago - something which Milan Kundera has also done (although he does not call it Modernism per se, but simply the 'history of the novel') and, much earlier - Josipovici himself. Even the point that Eric Ormsby makes in his Wall Street Journal review:

Perhaps the true question raised by "What Ever Happened to Modernism?" is about the way in which art grapples with reality. The 19th-century novelists created characters and set them within a narrative; this was an "arbitrary" process: David Copperfield and Père Goriot are as contrived as the marquise who went out at five. Balzac carried a cane inscribed with the motto "I smash all obstacles." Kafka noted that he himself should have a cane inscribed "All obstacles smash me." Kafka knew that, as Mr. Josipovici puts it, "to be modern is to know that some things can no longer be done."

was anticipated by Josipovici three decades ago in The World and the Book: A Study of Modern Fiction, where he writes in the Preface:
For we must understand that the great modern revolutionaries did not say: 'Don't look at the world the way people have been doing for the last four centuries, it's wrong'; but: 'Don't look at the world the way people have been doing for the last four centuries, it's lazy.'

Monday, September 27, 2010

Only a sort of optical instrument

And Proust on a related object:

L'ouvrage de l'écrivain n'est qu'une espèce d'instrument optique qu'il offre au lecteur afin de lui permettre de discerner ce que, sans ce livre, il n'eût peut-être pas vu en soi-même.

The work of the writer is only a sort of optic instrument which he offers to the reader so that he may discern in the book what he would probably not have seen in himself.

Le Temps retrouvé

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Another interview with Adam Seelig in connection with Ritter, Dene, Voss. Here he defines 'poetic theatre' as something which 'attempts to find clarity through ambiguity.' He continues:

It’s not verse theatre or prose theatre or journalistic theatre. It’s theatre that treats the text as a score (as with Ritter, Dene, Voss) and treats the gap between actor and audience not as an obstacle to bypass, but as a medium through which multiple meanings can emerge. There’s a difference between shining a light directly into the audience’s eyes, and having it pass through a prism.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Elves and other heroes

What is it an inclination away from? 'These aren’t particularly healthy times. A breed of lyrical Realism has had the freedom of the highway for some time now, with most other exits blocked,' as Zadie Smith wrote when she reviewed Tom McCarthy's first novel, Remainder, along with Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill nearly two years ago. She has written in this tradition herself, as she admits in the essay - and in fact is yet to show herself to be writing against it, but her analysis is sharp.

Mark Thwaite calls the thing Establishment Literary Fiction - which he shortens to ELF, with all the ironic suggestion, I'm sure, of heroic battles with teeming dark forces.

The question, however, is how to write around or through or under these fast moving highways. Christopher Taylor, in his review of McCarthy's most recent novel C, quotes McCarthy himself: "'Will he turn out,' McCarthy asked recently of the French writer Jean-Philippe Toussaint, 'to have been deconstructing literary sentimentalism or sentimentalising literary deconstruction?'" One aspect that already makes me suspicious when I read about C in reviews is the foregrounding of the material obsessions of protagonists - Serge going for radio waves while his sister goes for insects - which puts me in mind of the way bridge engineering and quilting function in Kate Grenville's The Idea of Perfection - a novel in which every emotional string is pulled. Even if you cut these strings, isn't the material or systems obsessed protagonist already a sentimental trope, a cliché of the nineties and noughties? I'll have to read it and C.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

An inclination away

Reading that One Little Goat's production of Thomas Bernhard's Ritter, Dene, Voss is opening tomorrow in New York - the tomorrow of New York, which necessarily is so much later than ours - I thought it was a good moment to begin this blog - on the generous eve of an inclination away from 'showing-not-telling' toward a kind of 'being-in-lieu-of-showing,' as the director, Adam Seelig, puts it - and, for that reason (and just to help it along a tad), I shall call this blog a Being in Lieu.